Baldrige Award Honors Local Partners for ‘True Transformation’

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Michael Hripko holds a frame encasing a white certificate, recognition of a collaborative effort to improve quality of life and economic well-being of the Mahoning Valley.

Hripko, economic recovery coordinator and Mahoning Valley Communities of Excellence representative for Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, told a room of live and virtual participants inside Eastgate of how a consortium of community and foundation leaders had strategic initiatives to improve the region. Their ongoing efforts were rewarded with national recognition for its “Commitment to Community Excellence.”

“[Tuesday] recognizes that we’ve achieved the objectives of Year One,” he said, “which is to take a good, hard assessment of your community and form a bond among key, community leaders and a commitment together to solve our problems.”

Throughout 2020, several Mahoning Valley community and economic development organizations have participated in the Communities of Excellence 2026 National Learning Collaborative. The initiative is based on criteria developed by the National Institute of Science and Technology’s Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.

The Mahoning Valley Communities of Excellence Leadership Team includes representatives from the cities of Warren and Youngstown, the Community Foundation of the Mahoning Valley, Eastern Gateway Community College, Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, Mercy Health Foundation, The Raymond John Wean Foundation, Western Reserve Port Authority, The Youngstown Foundation, Youngstown State University and the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Hripko said the group started with the Raymond John Wean Foundation, the Youngstown Foundation and the Community Foundation, before expanding to other organizations around the Valley, including Eastgate.

The Mahoning Valley consortium embraced Malcolm Baldrige’s core values and the Communities of Excellence as they were revealed to the group at a national conference October 2019 in Nashville. 

The Baldrige Program, according the NIST’s website, raises awareness about the importance of excellence in driving U.S. and global economies; provides organizational assessment tools; educates leaders in business, schools, health care organizations, government and nonprofit agencies about best practices; and recognizes national role models and honors them with a Presidential Award for performance excellence.

Stephanie Norling, Communities of Excellence’s executive director, said the Baldrige program empowers people seeking to improve their community.

“It encourages collaboration across sectors, coordinating plans, processes and actions to collectively reach their share of goals for improved health and well being,” she said. “Better educational outcomes. Have more robust economic conditions to have greater impact than you could individually. It instills a culture of leadership and responsibility across generations.” 

The Mahoning Valley group has followed the Baldrige teaching, implementing them in the area.

“[It provides] a structured way and a repeatable way for the community to attack its biggest problems,” Hripko said. “What we’d try to do is identify those problems where we can make the greatest impact, be it in the area of health, community economic development, quality of life, public safety, concerns any city in the United States may have. Our solutions will be unique in addressing these challenges.” 

Despite being based in Washington, D.C., the Baldrige Foundation has local ties. Its president and CEO, Al Faber, is a native of Youngstown and watched his father lose his job from Youngstown Sheet and Tube in the late 1970s.

“There was a dark era in Youngstown when the entire community and all the ancillary business around Youngstown Sheet and Tube just started to wither away,” said Faber, a 1979 Chaney High School graduate. “It is heartening to watch Youngstown revitalize itself and use the Baldrige framework to do it. It is true transformation and true change. Lasting, sustainable change takes an entire team.

“The team you’ve assembled here will continue to grow. It will take Youngstown and bring it right back to life,” he said.

James Kinnick, executive director of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments, said there were a handful of entities trying to do this collaboration on their own.

“This framework helped us bring everyone together and create one organization so that we could share our ideas and work together,” he said.  

John Moliterno, executive director and CEO of the Western Reserve Port Authority, added the value of the community of excellence award is based with unique facets of each member of the Mahoning Valley consortium.

“There’s entities such as ours and financing packages,” Moliterno said. “Under the Ohio Revised Code, we have certain programs that only port authorities can operate within the state of Ohio. The [Regional] Chamber has various programs they’re involved with. Eastgate is the MRO [maintenance, repair and operations] for this Valley, being able to be involved on the transportation side. 

“Some have monies, as the foundations do, that they can put into projects. Others have various programs that we can get involved with in this program to make it better,” Moliterno continued. “We all have things that we can do to make this community better, but we have to be able to do it together, not do this by ourselves. This is a team approach and we’re well on the way toward growing that team.”

Arthur Daly, senior vice president for Eastern Gateway Community College’s Youngstown campus, said this combined effort impacts the community through education, “getting them trained and in-demand fields to be able to go out and provide in this new community of excellence we’re trying to develop.”

“Students can stay local, train local, build their families here local,” he added. “That’s what the community of excellence is all about, building an educated workforce to go out and create wonderful communities for us to live in.”

Hripko said in year two of this Mahoning Valley collaboration, they will be “identifying common strategic initiatives that each of our organizations will set, prioritize, resource and work toward resolution and solutions. Together we’re examining what other initiatives might we follow upon to make a difference in a very short period of time.” 

Pictured: Eastgate Executive Director James Kinnick, WRPA Executive Director and CEO John Moliterno, Eastgate economic development coordinator Michael Hripko and Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber chief operating officer Sarah Boyarko with the award recognizing the Mahoning Valley for the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.

Copyright 2021 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.